PIECES OF APRIL
WHEN IS A FAMILY NOT DYSFUNCTIONAL? | OCT 28, 2003
The novelty of Katie Holmes portraying a former punk twistette should be reason enough to check this movie out. She’s beautiful, talented and lends the ironically innocent edge her character demands. But there are many more wicked goobers of greatness in _this recipe. Stir in one estranged family consisting of a doting doltish dad, a last-born sibling trembling with perfection, a spacey grandma, an estranged uber-critical mother ornery from terminal illness, and a slacker middle child as her willing slave. Toss the latter ingredients into a station wagon and beat until smooth. Carefully blend in a few cultural references and top with a warm-hearted holiday theme. Bake until golden brown + toasty.
Oh no, I made it sound way too easy. But April thought that if she followed her memorized recipes and reviewed her scatter-brained spontaneous checklist, preparing a family feast _was going to be easy.
Prior to this dreadful day, April Burns (appropriate as she “burned bridges” among other things) volunteered to make Thanksgiving dinner, invited her weirdo suburbanite kin up to her ratty NY Lower East Side apartment +promised to be civil. Because the strange thing is, they are the ones who are embarrassed by her. Prone to pyromania in her youth, you would think April would have turned on her stove at least once. Used as a storage hidey-hole, she never realized that the darn thing never worked. Nervous anger promotes her courage to scour her apartment complex, begging for help. She encounters many different personalities and nationalities, which is a refreshing introduction to modern city life and exemplifies the origins of Turkey Day. April even stutters out an explanation of the holiday to a patient Chinese family, revealing (through subtle facial expressions) how painful and difficult her own transition /discovery of new territory was.
One new addition in her life, is her sweeter than cotton-candy boyfriend Bobby (handsome Derek Luke). He’s a genial soul who nudges April in the right directions and is the catalyst in this chaos. He rushes off towards a mysterious rendezvous with April’s blessings (this is when she thought it was going to be easy), saying he has to do “a thing”. We discover that the “thing” he needed to do was strictly out of Love. The extent of Love and the people who embrace it shine. Background wire sculptures, mosaics and molds of hands drive home the theme of helpful vs. helplessness, reaching out and letting go. We even see how Love makes April’s ex-beau so enraged that he, well, he tries to do something awful.
Crème-filled Cameos: Sean Hayes (TV’s Will & Grace) is the resident reticent in the “penthouse” of this trash-hole. He represents those who expect quid pro quo in a frightfully Ayn Rand-esque view of altruism. SisQo (sans bad peroxide job) as Bobby’s buddy adds to the urban flair and handles his limited lines well. Oliver Platt and the librarian lady from Ghostbusters (as April’s dad +grandma respectively) incur laughter and smiles. There is even a poignant moment (as poignant as dialog can get about Alzheimer’s) where she tartly asks if the person sitting next to her is really her daughter. When the question is easily dismissed, grandma lucidly states, “You’re not my daughter. My daughter is kind.”
Crispy Cultural Quips: Pseudo-cultural mockery of white people trying to act black -- someone from April’s past changes his name to Tyrone on the fly with full hip-hop regalia, a three-line vegan vs. vegetarian debate, and mention of the raping of Native American people and land. Brilliant.
Music by Merritt: A long-time cult favorite, fans will be ecstatic about this soundtrack’s featured artist. (Though the film title itself is taken from Three Dog Night). Verbatim from the “House of Tomorrow” website: Nonesuch Records will be releasing a 10-song soundtrack album for the film "Pieces of April." All songs are by Stephin Merritt, The Magnetic Fields, and the 6ths. There are five previously released songs that appear in the movie, and five new, unreleased songs. The song "One April Day" was especially written for the film, and there are four new songs which do not appear in the movie. The soundtrack album will be titled "Stephin Merritt- Pieces of April." It should be in stores in early- to mid-November, 2003.
Peter Hedges, director and screenwriter (About a Boy, A Map of the World, What’s Eating Gilbert Grape?) always manages to infuse thoughtful story lines with humor and realism. His take on the idea and enactment of Family, brandishes contemporary detail and classic charm. He, like (don’t laugh now) John Hughes, is brave enough to tackle challenging and sometimes controversial issues, yet display it in an easily digestible package. You also feel the energy and vehemence of the characters; you can’t help but empathize with them.
Pieces of April was sewn together from an actual out-of-commission oven account told by an actress Hedges met on the subway, and his own experiences of dealing with his mother’s cancer. However, he says: “I'm not April, and the character of the mother is almost antithetical to my mother, who was warm and gentle. But all stories are seasoned by life, and this one is no exception. The one thing you do feel when someone you love is dying and you can't stop it is the loud tick of time. I wanted to make a movie about how we're running out of time, and how we say - without words - thank you and I'm sorry and goodbye."
SIDE NOTE: This movie was made for under $300,000. Not like the Academy's opinions really matter to me or most of the indie crowd, but Katie Holmes has been rumoured to be in the running for Best Actress alongside Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, etc. If this comes to fruition, it may give her the proper respect she deserves to lift her out of that 'WB' stereotype. Peter Hedges' About a Boy screenplay previously earned him an Oscar nomination and he may receive another for his directorial debut. Patricia Clarkson (wonderful as April's mom) may also receive another nomination nod. This is a "limited wide-release" so if you have the means, go see it in the theater.
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